This post is about a piece of vintage illustration I recently purchased and restored. It is by a wonderful, but relatively unknown illustrator named Michael Dolas (1912-2010). He had a career spanning six decades and was friends with Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker. I have written an article about this great artist which may be seen in the July 2014 issue (#45) of Illustration Magazine:
The piece came to me through the estate of a very close friend, Bill Vann, who passed away in 2011. Bill was an incredible illustrator himself and had the most amazing personal collection of vintage illustration I ever had the pleasure of viewing. It is a privilege not only to possess such high calibre of work, but to have the honor to restore it to its former glory. It is a Budweiser billboard from the 1950's, in what was coined (by MD) as his "floating head" period.
Unfortunately, at that time, original illustrations were viewed solely as a means to a commercial end. Once a piece was finished, it might have been kept by an art director, shoved into a flat file, or discarded all together. In this case, one-third of the work (right side) was cut off. Likely, the party involved was only interested in the people, not the type or bottle. In any case, we are thankful at least to have part of the original work preserved.
Upon researching Dolas' work from that era, I had the good fortune to find a website dedicated to billboard art: http://advertisingbillboards.blogspot.com/2008/04/old-budweiser-beer-billboards.html
It features well over a dozen billboards by MD and confirmed the authentic layout/content therein. Now, it was a matter of putting in the necessary hours to complete the task at hand.
Here is the illustration as it was received. Note the splatters (top right), masking tape, and though it may not be apparent in this photo, a generally dirty surface.
The first order of business was tape removal and a good, careful cleaning. Per Ralph Mayer's Handbook of Artist's Materials and Techniques, a lightly dampened cloth/Q-tips (with water) was applied inch by inch over the surface surrounding, but not touching the heads. Thankfully, this simple but painstaking step did wonders in removing years of grime. Since the type is watercolor/gouache, however, extreme caution had to be observed when cleaning in and around the letters.
Next, again citing the RM book, it was time to bring out the dental tools. These 60+ year old smiles needed a cleaning. Using a loop and a steady hand, I observed dirt within the pits of the brush strokes. Every effort was made to avoid contact with the metal edge and paint surface. The idea was to "pop" loose whatever soiled material was present, then gently clear it away with clean air. It was amazing to discover a rhythm, not unlike the act of painting itself, which seemed to take over during the process. Once again a tried-and-true method had worked its magic and the surface sparkled. Colors were vibrant and highlights turned their forms.
The easy part was over. Now for the real work. A similar surface had to be located and prepared. The original board is masonite. It wasn't a problem finding some, as I too keep much of it on hand for painting. Though not perfect, it was a good match. After three layers of Winsor & Newton oil priming, it was ready for painting. Matching the color was a challenge, but with a little raw umber and ivory black added to the titanium white, a color with the proper "time stamp" appeared.
The lettering was pretty straightforward too. I was able to use tracing paper to trace/transfer most of the letters, while the "s" and "r" (in Budweiser) were free-handed/cobbled together respectively. As was mentioned earlier, the type is watercolor/gouache, which was likely done by another artist. Often, the illustrator did the main image and technical artists would paint type and/or other mechanical objects. Thankfully, I'd just finished teaching a watercolor class last semester and was up to speed. Phthalo green (watercolor) paint was mixed with some raw umber and a very small amount of titanium white to touch up "Those who know enjoy Bud." There were many cracks in the letters which were laid back down with some subtle touches. Since the new lettering appeared on the new surface, I thought it would be more permanent to paint the remaining letters in oil. It worked well.
The last stage was painting the bottle. This would be the most critical execution in order to give the proper "feel" of the piece, thus bringing it back to its original state. If this was not convincingly recreated, all would be lost. Thankfully I discovered early in my freelance career that I had a knack for painting bottles (Coca-Cola in one such case). The product must, of course, look cold and refreshing. High contrast and clean, sharp edges are needed to give the illusion of metal (bottle cap) and water droplets on a glass surface. I was once again indebted to internet research. Fortunately, a vintage Budweiser advertisement from the 1950's was located. It featured a hi-resolution photo of the specific beer bottle in question. I decided to paint it on Arches oil paper. By doing this, the original surface would not be disturbed with new paint. The main logo/lettering was carefully rendered, while the smallest type was merely suggested or "gooned" (as it was known in the business). The rest was just a matter of light logic on a transparent cylinder. Strong core shadows, hot highlights, and rich transmitted light all contributed to its solidity. Zots acid free/archival dots were then placed on the back of the Arches paper (generously) for good adhesion. Pressed into place, the illustration was complete. It measures 21" x 46".
At this point, a connection was made. Such is my appreciation for these artists - Norman Rockwell, J.C. Leyendecker, Michael Dolas, and so many more, that to have the honor of sharing this restored piece with future generations gives a deep sense of fulfillment. Thank you and I hope you enjoyed this process.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
Jason Dowd Illustration
949 856 2502 studio
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Project Title: "American Heritage"
Project Title: "Bevo Fox" (promo poster)
Friday, March 14, 2014
This is an 8" x 10" oil portrait of Mel Blanc. I'm going to have some fun painting a new series of vintage personalities, by whom I am greatly inspired. Another "new" facet to these works will be that they are painted on Arches oil paper. Please scroll down for a step-by-step process of this demonstration and comments accordingly.
First, I mounted the paper down on a 1/8" piece of birch panel using hide glue. Be sure to spread the glue evenly (I use my finger) over the panel surface to avoid puddling. Next, a clean flat board (no surface imperfections) is laid on the paper/panel and a heavy book is centered on the board, offering pressure. This will remain in place overnight. After 12 hours, the panel is removed and inspected to make sure the bond between paper and panel is firm. This stage is crucial as you want to avoid poor adhesion. This could lead to buckling during the painting process.
The panel is now ready for the first layer, which is the drawing. A contour drawing is carefully laid in using raw umber, drying linseed oil (very little), and a synthetic sable brush. (Note: I really don't go out of my way to buy expensive brushes. I'm kind of hard on them when I work, so I don't want to repetitively ruin costly brushes)
This stage tells me a lot about the surface. Upon laying in a tone of raw umber with a bit of transparent red oxide (Rembrandt brand) and drying linseed oil, I find that there is too much drag for my taste. It is more laborious to apply than on an acrylic gessoed or oil primed panel/canvas. Also, the paint is not easily removed, even with the use of a kneaded eraser. (Note: You can use a kneaded eraser to remove oil paint - try it, but do not use the same one for drawing)
I am still optimistic though and decide to try a solution. Once this layer is dry (overnight), a coat of retouch varnish is added with a brush. Since the paper has been a bit absorbent, it is important to penetrate the paper fibers with something that will more easily allow the paint sit on the surface. It works. Unlike a regular panel (which can take days for the varnish to become glass-like), the retouch varnish soaks in, and thus, is not tacky to the touch. It is ready for the next step. (Verdict: Though I made my own modifications in the process, ultimately, I give a "thumbs up" for Arches oil paper)
Since this is to be a vintage series, I thought it would be fun to paint these works in black and white. However, a straight gray painting seemed boring, so a contrast of a warm base (raw umber/trans. red oxide) with a cool top layer of raw umber/ivory black/white, offered some nice subtleties and variety.
Here, the background is blocked in keeping the strongest darks on the right side of the face, slowly gradating to a cooler, lighter transition on the left. Some initial grays are also introduced into the shadows of the face.
This stage is the rough block-in. It offers some nice color contrast (as mentioned in Step 3), however, it feels plastic and artificial. The heart of a successful painting is achieving interesting paint qualities (brushwork, surface textures, etc.), while adhering to proper drawing. At all stages, the drawing must be observed, lest you fall into "technique-land." Good brushwork tends to come out on its own when a strong understanding of the laws of light and shape relationships are equally maintained. After some years of practice and experience, this becomes a familiar concept.
Better! The next layer of paint in this indirect demonstration ("indirect" painting meaning wet layers over previously dried layers), begins to show Mr. Blanc's character. Subtleties of the smaller planes are now being expressed, though I am careful not to polish or overwork the strokes. (Note: The French used to refer to achieving a smooth surface as "licking the paint")
All that really needs to be done is some final highlights and details (forehead creases, etc.). These sorts of touches can be nerve-racking since none of us wants to kill the freshness of a 95% completed piece. It is just these last bits of information though, that can give a portrait that spark of life!